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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Magic Leap of faith

I’ve covered some news regarding Magic Leap a few times here on the blog. You can skim the posts here. I’ll pull a quote from something I wrote in the summer of 2018:

But I do think Magic Leap is playing a dangerous game with the hype machine. They should try to lower expectations before their consumer or business devices hit the market. This way when the press covers them the reviews will be glowing rather than lukewarm.

Rather than try to lower expectations they went nearly completely silent. And everything they’ve uploaded to YouTube was confusing, boring, and showed almost nothing. So odd.

Well, now they are trying to sell after trying to have a big exit to Facebook.

Just a quick rant regarding valuations, raising a bunch of money, and hype… if I may.

Magic Leap played this wrong from the jump. Yes, VR is an issue that has taken, and will take a lot more, money to solve. There is no way around it. However, you don’t need to blow the money into the wind either. You can get a core team, even a well paid team, and iterate. Oculus seems to have done that to some degree – even though they were able to secure a large exit to Facebook.

Second, if you raise a huge amount of money you very quickly eliminate the possible acquisition targets for your company (if you want to exit in that way). There are a lot of companies in the world that can afford to acquire a company for $10M-$100M. There are relatively few that can for $10B+.

Third, if you hype up your technology as much as Magic Leap has, almost any demonstration they were able to do would lead to a “this is what you’ve spent billions on?” type of reaction.

If Magic Leap has solved any big technical hurdles for VR I sincerely hope those solutions make it into the market in some way – either through a fire sale, open source, whatever. But I do hope the company itself goes belly up to show others this isn’t how you do this.

VR-OS

VR-OS:

A new operating system beyond the limits of your monitor

Impressive concept. But far from being a reality.

I would like something like this but in AR, so I can still see the world around me. I’d rather the “windows” of the OS to be able to be anywhere “in the room” such as the wall, floor, ceiling, floating in mid-air etc.

I want any size screen, any time, any where

Andy Baio in an interview on Uses This:

I’ve worn glasses for my entire life, so my personal dream setup would be replacing my laptop, monitor, and phone all at once by replacing my prescription lenses with augmented-reality glasses that annotate the world around me without blocking it out entirely.

I do not wear glasses but long-time readers of my blog may remember that I too would like to replace all of the screens in my life for an augmented reality experience. I’d want them to provide me any screen size I need at any time any where.

When I personally look at how I use my full monitor desk set up, my laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone; I am generally just changing the size of the screen between contexts. Mixed reality (MR) could provide me a way to have any screen I need at any time and thus only have a single device. We’re likely a long way off on this – mostly because all of the companies seem to be focused on the lucrative gaming market.

I haven’t written about mixed reality on my blog in a while. I believe my timeline for such things still stands. As does my observations on the industry as a whole. But it may be time to revisit MR and see what the latest is.

Palmer Lucky on Magic Leap

Palmer Lucky, co-founder of Oculus (no longer with the company):

The product they put out is reasonably solid, but is nowhere close to what they had hyped up, and has several flaws that prevent it from becoming a broadly useful tool for development of AR applications. That is not good for the XR industry. It is slightly better than Hololens in some ways, slightly worse in others, and generally a small step past what was state of the art three years ago – this is more Hololens 1.1 than Consumer AR 1.0.

He didn’t hold back. But, then again, I wouldn’t expect him to.

Magic Leap One Creator Edition

Adi Robertson for The Verge:

But the Magic Leap One’s 50-degree diagonal field of view, while larger than the competing Microsoft HoloLens, is still extremely limited. And the image quality feels roughly on par with the two-year-old HoloLens. It’s generally good, but with some tracking and transparency issues. Given how much effort Magic Leap has apparently put into cultivating internal creative teams and outside partners, we were also disappointed at the lack of substantial experiences from them. But that last thing, at least, isn’t a major issue for developers right now — since they can now buy Magic Leap’s hardware and start testing their own stuff.

Overall she gives the hardware a very positive review, the software a very lukewarm review, and the “experience” a “meh”. While this release is for developers to get their hands on the devices, I believe the hype this company has built around itself has hurt them. No matter what they showed in this first version it would have been disappointing to many.

I’ve personally never used a HoloLens nor a Magic Leap so I’ll still hold out judgement until I do. But I do think Magic Leap is playing a dangerous game with the hype machine. They should try to lower expectations before their consumer or business devices hit the market. This way when the press covers them the reviews will be glowing rather than lukewarm.

A technology predication time capsule

Readers of my blog will know that I occasionally attempt to predict when certain technologies that I write about will hit the mainstream. While I’m very passionate about a few technologies, I try to temper that excitement with the experiences I’ve had, the wisdom that comes with age, and other factors. Usually, things take a little longer to happen than we’d like for the things we want to see most. And sometimes, sometimes, the things we want most never materialize at all.

For the purposes of this post, mainstream doesn’t mean critical mass but rather mass market adoption. With 7B+ people on the planet reaching critical mass is far easier than reaching mass market saturation. In other words, a company, product, or technology can reach sustainability and never truly hit the mass market. Examples: Tesla can succeed, be profitable, and have happy customers without the world moving on from fossil fuels. A company focusing on AI can make great livings, do compelling and challenging work, without every family having their own personal C-3PO.

Here are some stake-in-the-ground predictions on some of the most talked about technologies of our day. We’ll see in the next few decades if I was even close.

  • Legal, fully autonomous driving with no human assistance: Mid-summer 2026 – Even 9 years out there will still only be a few select vehicles that will fit into this category. There will still be humans driving on the road. And, only the most expensive cars will have all of these features. But, it will exist, be available to anyone, and be legal in the US. And I also believe there will be small fleets running in select cities for Lyft, Uber, and I believe Tesla will have a ride-share platform by this point. Also, don’t be surprised if Apple does too.
  • Bitcoin, or some crypto-currency, being widely transacted at small retail stores in the US: 2027 – If Square, or some other platform with high market saturation, turns on crypto for retail SMBs then we can say they accept this form of tender. But, I believe it will be 10 years before we see a decent number of daily transactions by consumers. I know, “decent” is relative so I’ll give it a number: $100,000,000 US dollar equivalent in a single month. This is roughly 25% of US monthly retail revenue as of September 2017. Side note: By this time we’ll see talk of the US dollar being converted to an all digital currency and, perhaps, transacted on its own blockchain.
  • Mixed Reality experiences used in everyday work environments: 2027 – Today we share links to web sites, documents on Google Drive, and flat or animated graphics to design and develop both soft and physical products. By 2025 many of these every day things will be accessible and even better experience within MR. I believe most businesses with digital assets will have multiple pairs of “glasses” or “goggles” that will allow team members to view or collaborate on these types of data. In other words, by 2030 rather than sending a child a link to Wikipedia to learn about our Solar System I believe we’ll be sending them MR experiences that they will consume using an augmented reality experience on a device other than a flat panel display. This happens today. But no where near mass market. And this industry has a long way to go. Even further than I previously thought.
  • Wireless internet takes over all cable based internet: 2029 – Most people in the US will connect to the Internet via wireless across all devices. And there will be no limitation on bandwidth usage.
  • Fully autonomous fleets replace individual car ownership: 2037 – Today US cities are plagued by traffic jams comprised of single occupant vehicles. Mass transit softens this but doesn’t solve the issue due to the convenience of a car. Ride sharing services have softened this even more and car ownership in urban areas is on the decline. By 2037 we’ll see massive reduction in individual car ownership in cities but also in the hinterlands as fleets of fully autonomous vehicles, combined with better mass transit, can care for the majority of transportation needs. I believe, however, families with at least 2 children will still have a single family-owned vehicle of some sort. Again, I’d like to put a number on this. So I’d say 15-25% less car ownership/use for individuals and commuters nationwide.
  • Mixed Reality replacing many conventional meat space locations/activities: 2050 – By 2050 the majority of children in the US will have the option to attend school in VR ala Ready Player One. Virtual classrooms will no longer be limited by federal budgets but will be designed to appear like cathedrals of learning.
  • (Because, why not?) An off-planet human civilization: 2175 – Humans will walk on Mars in the 2020s. And, perhaps, a small moon or Mars base will exist in similar fashion to today’s ISS in the 2030s. But a civilization, where people live, work, play, have children, and die peacefully etc. won’t exist on any other planet or moon (likely the Moon will have an established civilization prior to Mars). The reason I put this far-reaching prediction on this list is because I believe the excitement around a human footprint on Mars will lead to speculation about off-planet civilizations. But, we must all remember, we put a footprint on the Moon many, many decades ago and then just never went back. I do think that we’ll be mining objects near Earth much, much sooner. Even the Moon. But we’ll do that with robots and minimal human intervention.
  • Tweet editing – Never.

Check back in a few decades to see if I was even close.

Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality

In this video Tom Warren of The Verge uses some mixed reality headsets for Windows. Watching them I’m reminded just how far this industry has to go. I’d call much of what I see in this video very much beta-level hardware and software.

It has only been 5 months since I wrote the aforelinked piece and we’ve seen some major, major movement in this space during that time. Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all thrown massive amounts of resources into mixed reality. I feel the pace of updates will only quicken over the next 24 months. By 2020 everything we see in this video will look ancient.

/via Dan Kimbrough on Twitter.

Tim Cook on ARKit

Tim Cook, in a recent quarterly earnings call for Apple, on ARKit:

One of the most exciting and most promising announcements from WWDC was ARKit, a new set of tools for developers to create augmented reality apps. It’s still early in the beta period, but it’s clear that ARKit has captured the imagination of our developer community. We think ARKit will help the most creative minds in the industry tap into the latest computer vision technologies to build engaging content. We believe AR has broad mainstream applicability, across education, entertainment, interactive gaming, enterprise, and categories we probably haven’t even thought of. With hundreds of millions of people actively using iPhone and iPad today, iOS will become the world’s biggest augmented reality platform as soon as iOS 11 ships.

And, later:

I could not be more excited about AR, and what we’re seeing with ARKit in the early goings. To answer your question about what category it starts in, just take a look at what’s already on the web in terms of what people are doing — and it’s all over the place. From entertainment to gaming, I’ve seen what I would call more small business solutions, I’ve seen consumer solutions, I’ve seen enterprise solutions. I think AR is big and profound. This is one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel on the start of it. I think that customers are going to see it in a variety of ways. Enterprise takes a little longer sometimes to get going, but I can tell you there’s a lot of excitement already in there. I think we’ll start to see some applications there as well. It feels great to get this thing going at a level that can sort of get all the developers behind it. I couldn’t be more excited about it.

I feel the same way. ARKit is a foundational technology and the applications of it are going to be far reaching. And, no, my app isn’t based on ARKit.

See also.

Glass Enterprise

Jay Kothari, Project Lead for Glass:

Now the Glass product team is back at X, and we’ll be collaborating with the Google Cloud team and our partners to help customers across a variety of business sectors make the most of Glass. Together, we’re looking forward to seeing more businesses give their workers a way to work faster and in a more focused way, hands-free.

Glass Enterprise is a smart pivot by the Glass team. MR belongs at work and will have the greatest impact in these settings. More of this please!

Is VR overrated?

Kristopher B. Jones, an entrepreneur from near my neck of the woods, weighs in on VR in a recent Forbes piece debating the applicability of the technology:

I’m a strong believer that virtual reality is overrated, as it has limited applications outside of very specific industries. Industries like gaming and medical training are likely to see a boom from VR, while other industries such as food service, retail and finance with have limited to no applicability of VR. Much like Google Glass and 3-D television, the buzz will eventually die down.

In November of 2016 I said VR wasn’t ready. But that I thought it wasn’t far away. I was wrong because I was lumping VR in with a much larger mixed reality landscape. It wasn’t until I dug deep into mixed reality that I understood the subtle nuances between VR, AR, and the various other degrees of mixed reality experiences.

Kris likely understands this landscape even better than I do. He’s is right. VR will never be as big as the hype. In fact, I’d bank on it. However, “mixed reality experiences” (such as augmented reality) are popping up in every single app we currently have and will continue to do so. You already see it in Facebook, Instagram, Apple’s Clips app, even within the Uber app and Google Maps app. Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are already shipping platforms, frameworks, and APIs to help developers bring MR into their apps and services. And Google recently demonstrated an amazing technology called Lens that will be inside of Google Assistant and Google Photos soon. I also think the automobile dashboard and windshield is a huge future play for AR.

I don’t think Forbes or Kris lumps VR together with AR. But I do think that many consumers do. They think mixed reality is all about wearing huge goggles. It isn’t until you dig a little deeper that you see that mixed reality is all around us already. It’s already a hit. And it is just going to keep growing.

VR as a subset of MR is overrated. But, MR is far from overrated.